Stretched too!
September 8, 2012 7:18 AM   Subscribe

Overwhelmed with parenthood/work/ am I supposed to manage everything? Am I being selfish?

I have a 1-year-old daughter that was an amazing, sleepy, quiet baby, and now has developed this crazy energy that no amount of coffee can compete with. She's not sleeping through the night (she's getting more teeth and she seems uncomfortable) and feeding her is a chore. She eats well for her daycare provider, but throws her food around and is super-picky around me. She gets into everything, and I'm finding it hard to keep up. It is a struggle to get a shower and meals for me in!

I work full time during the week and travel about once every month/month and a half and it ranges from 2-5 days. I love my job and the travel that goes along with it. I feel rejuvinated (8 hours of sleep?! YES!) when I come back. My daughter stays with a daycare provider who loves her like her own, and my mom and sister occasionally watch her.

I feel terribly guilty though. Going away is hard because I miss her, but fun and exciting because I've never in my life traveled before this. On top of that, I keep her late in daycare once every other week for a therapy appontment, and another day (weekly) for a night class. I am in therapy for a phobia, but it will be wrapping up within a few months, and I have four classes left to graduate so abandoning that seems like a bad idea, particularly because if I complete my degree, my work will pay for it. At the same time, my ex doesn't take her for any length of time--no "every other weekend" arrangement and I don't see that ever changing. I cut ties with him and that has been a HUGE relief. But my daughter is with me 24/7 unless she is at daycare or my sisters.

I would love to start dating eventually. I can't take more time away from my daughter, so that's on hold. And besides that, I am self-conscious, for a lack of a better word, about my "status" as a single mother. I feel like most guys won't even look at me if they know that I have a child.

I want to have friends. I have maybe 3 or 4 friends that are more like acquaintances. I have no idea how to go about meeting people without taking more time away from my daughter. But bringing her seriously takes me hours upon hours to get us ready, fed, and out of the house. I've gone out with my sister and her friends 3 times in the past year. I feel guilty about leaving my daughter.

My mom is pushing me to sign her up for swim lessons and group activities. I am too overwhelmed. I rush around with work and daycare and appointments throughout the week, and the last thing I want to do is get up after 5 hours of broken sleep on a weekend to get myself ready before she wakes up and I don't have 30 seconds to myself.

I feel like I'm selfish for not doing enough with her. I feel guilty because I enjoy my time to myself when I travel. I feel overwhelmed and like I am getting nothing done when I'm home with her. I am lonely and don't have fellow parent friends. I want to start family therapy once I have more time.

I feel like a terrible mother. Things that should be easy at this point frazzle me.

How do I manage all of this? Should I be feeling as guilty as I do?

Any tips/suggestions/words of encouragement GREATLY appreciated! Especially firsthand experience from other parents/single parents...
posted by andariel to Human Relations (29 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
I am a parent, but not a single parent.

First, in terms of your class and work: DO NOT feel guilty. Part of parenting is ensuring your financial stability and providing your child with food, clothing, and a roof over their head. Even when you're not with your daughter, you're still parenting her. Keeping yourself healthy and happy is also part of parenting. No one wins if you stay with your daughter in some kind of battle of exhaustion instead of taking time to rejuvenate. She enjoys time with other people, too, and she's learning that the world is full of people who care about her and will treat her well, not just mom. That's an invaluable lesson for her to learn and internalize. In that sense, a high-quality, loving network of caregivers is good for her.

How are you doing, financially? Do you have a little bit of extra money? One way to ease your burden while still spending time with your daughter is to hire a mother's helper to supervise her and play with her while you get things done or take a nap. OR, alternatively, you can ask them to do simple chores, laundry, and the like while you focus on playing.

Think about childproofing at least one room or possibly all of them so that you're not constantly worried about what your child will get into. It's not a substitute for supervision, but as a parent of an almost-1-year-old, it is a HUGE relief to have a room where he can sit and play with anything without me grabbing him and telling him "no" all the time.

In terms of sleep, you should be getting more than 5 fractured hours. I suspect your daughter isn't getting enough sleep either. Weissbluth's Healthy Sleep Habits, Happy Child is a good read for age-appropriate sleep expectations.

Eating...they're always more difficult for Mom than they are for daycare/sitters. I know this from years of experience as a nanny/sitter, and now my own child is the same way! It is totally frustrating and infuriating. What we do is sit our baby down, feed him his spoon foods/purees for a little bit (which he often won't eat), and then leave him with finger foods that don't make a huge mess like cheerios. They get enough at this age, whether or not they act like total crazy babies.

Finally, YOU ARE A GREAT MOM. It comes through in this question. You really love your daughter and are doing your best for her. That does NOT mean being velcroed to her side. It means doing your job, enjoying your life, and ensuring that her caregivers are skilled and loving. That's what you're doing, and you should be very proud of yourself.
posted by the young rope-rider at 7:34 AM on September 8, 2012 [12 favorites]

I have been a single mother for fifteen years, and I understand what you're talking about completely. It's important to know that we all feel guilty when we leave our kids.

But the bottom line is that when I take time away, I am a better person to be around. I can appreciate my children more and the time we spend together is that much more special. I need my friends and time when I can get outside of my office and speak more than three words in a row.

As for making friends, just take your daughter to the same park at the same time of the week. You'll start to meet moms whose kids are the same age, and you'll be able to breathe a little. I found that being with other moms who were in the same place was VERY helpful. I didn't need to be their best friends; I just needed a little "woah, I'm not alone and I'm not an awful mom" to get me through.

Best of luck to you!
posted by frizz at 7:37 AM on September 8, 2012 [1 favorite]

Also, at 1, if she's already in daycare, she gets more than enough activity/social interaction. One year olds don't really need structured classes or whatever. If your mom wants to take her to something--meaning get her ready and take her--then maybe that would be a good break for you. Otherwise, ask your mom to can it.
posted by the young rope-rider at 7:38 AM on September 8, 2012 [14 favorites]

I was going to say what rope rider said about the activities.

That said, if you are looking to make friends, mom/parent groups can be a good way to do that. Find ones that involve working moms, and meet on the weekends. I used to belong to one that did outings once a month on Saturdays (zoo, fairs, museums, parks, farms, whatever) and one Saturday a month did play dates at someone's house or a park. And then sometimes had "ladies nights out". That might be a good option for friends without losing time for your daughter. It has the added benefit that the right group of moms will also be supportive of you, and will help you realize that what youre going through is "normal" or at least not unusual (if the group is full of stay at home moms or people who make you feel judgmental, find another group).

Your daughter is young. It's a great time to get school out of the way. She's learning that you come back to her. When she's three and can manipulate you with words you'll be glad you got it done :)
posted by dpx.mfx at 7:45 AM on September 8, 2012 [1 favorite]

You don't have to feed a 1yo -- kid can and should self-feed. Set out food and leave her to it. The throwing and balking suggests maybe you are missing cues that she's just not hungry. It is very normal for toddlers to skip meals, or call two bites a meal.

I wouldn't consider dating until you have built a happy life for yourself and your daughter, something where life works well for you guys and you have things to offer instead of needs that need to be filled, if that follows? Fill them yourself and then think about a partner to add to your joy. Life-sucks-I-want-a-boy/girlfriend is never a good place to find a mate from.

I am a single parent and think you have loads of time away from your kid and that on some levels you'll be best off appreciating that parenting is a lot of work, full stop; you are not uniquely bad off or anything. You have a 1yo, you are tired; this is pretty universal. It will get easier.

You should have more/better friendships, definitely, and I bet that's quite a void. I don't understand how it takes three hours to get the two of you out...? Something needs to be streamlined, standards need to drop, I don't know, but that's not normal. Your daughter will be fine gnawing on snacks in the car and you will be fine with...well, without whatever it is that's taking three hours. Get the two of you out without the prep, discover that nothing bad happens, repeat, enjoy!
posted by kmennie at 7:52 AM on September 8, 2012 [5 favorites]

(Parent, not single parent.) The only piece of advice I give all parents is to make sure that they get some time to themselves each week. It makes you a better parent, and human. So don't feel bad about doing that! And that's without the sleep aspect, which is also pretty essential -- if you weren't travelling and getting these doses of proper sleep, you might be having an even harder time.

Honestly, as much as I love the little ones, I think of everything between birth and preschool age as essentially crisis management. With rare exception, it just isn't easy, even for 2-parent families who can do some swapping out. It sounds like you're doing your best, and while you should try any of the pieces of advice here that make sense to you, mostly do your best to keep in mind that it will get easier, in very concrete ways. She will stop teething (eventually). She will sleep through the night (eventually). She will stop trying to put every choking hazard within reach in her mouth (eventually). As each of these things happen (and will of course be two steps forward one step back progress), the burden will ease up a little -- and especially when you can sleep a full 8 hours in your own house. It makes a HUGE difference.

So in the meantime, keep doing everything you are to get through and do right by both her and you. And be kind to yourself.
posted by feckless at 7:53 AM on September 8, 2012 [3 favorites]

She's healthy and loved at the end of each day?

Congratulations, you did a great job as a parent.

Kids go through phases of intensity and when they're high-need, other things have to be put on hold. She'll chill out or start nursery school or something, and you'll find time magically re-appearing. The calm baby becomes the crazy toddler who becomes the serious 5-year-old etc.

The daycare situation you have sounds good and stable for her which means the extra few hours she gets there are neutral, with the BIG positive of having a happier mom.

It is way way better for a kid to have a happy mom with energy to play and talk and just hang out than to have a mom who is stressed and juggling baby+me structured activities on top of work. Bright From the Start is a neat book on the science behind why being a relaxed playful parent is much healthier for your baby than all the classes, Mozart etc could be.

I have found when I get obsessive with self-flagellating guilt, it's often a sort of panicked control - I want to protect my kids against something external with relatives/school/etc that I can't control, so I try to over-compensate as SuperMom with magical thinking that by sheer force of my love and will, I can make-up for their other losses. Of course, that just sucks up all my energy and leaves me exhausted, the kids overwhelmed and it doesn't change the actual problem which is outside of my control.

It's hard to see your kids hurt or even potentially hurt, and not want to throw yourself in front to protect them. But you can make sure she's loved and cared for and that she has a healthy happy mom who plans for your future.
posted by viggorlijah at 8:00 AM on September 8, 2012 [5 favorites]

How do you feel about church/temple/mosque/etc? Houses of worship tend to be a very family friendly. You could go with your daughter; it'd be a great place for the two of you to make friends in the same space.
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 8:02 AM on September 8, 2012

Some of the best toddler feeding advice I got was to not stress about them getting all their nutrients everyday....think every two days. Toddlers will eat when they are hungry and won't when they aren't. If they have access to healthy foods but don't want to eat, don't worry, they will soon enough. watch their weight and "output" and relax. And take time for yourself.... you will need it as you go into the twos...
posted by pearlybob at 8:06 AM on September 8, 2012

I was a single parent for eight years (and technically I suppose I still am until that wedding happens!). Let me first tell you to NOT FEEL GUILTY.

At one point in my single parenthood, I was like you - I was freaking out about not being more of the mom I thought I should be, because I was overwhelmed and didn't have the time and energy to be June Cleaver.

One of my friends' moms was a therapist, and I called her desperately freaking out. And she told me: it's okay. It's okay if your kid misses one meal because she doesn't want to eat anything, it's not the end of the world and she'll be fine. It's okay if she has a few days away from you - in fact, it's even better if those few days are giving you the energy to deal with her on the other days.

What kind of mom do you want her to see? A mom that practices self-care, or one that doesn't? What do you want to model for her? Happiness or unhappiness? You need to remember that things that make you happy ARE things that are good for the kid, because they make you more pleasant to be around, and more relaxed when the little stresses hit you.

Like you, I dated infrequently when my daughter was around your age, in part because it was hard to meet people. I did start leaving her home with friends to do some social activities, and I met people and started dating when she was a bit older. It went really well - she didn't feel neglected or sad, especially because I left at night and came back at night, so it was only taking her sleep/not-sleep time.

Let's talk about your "status" as a single mother. Yes, it will scare some guys away - there's no two ways about that. But it may not scare them as much as you think, and it may not scare them if you initially meet them without her, and they get to see you as your fabulous self long before they see "harried mom." Which, if you're dating, a good rule is actually not to have them meet the kids until you know it's serious anyway, so this shouldn't be a problem.

Don't do the Mommy and Me classes. Those are for people that are not you. They will stress you and freak you out. She is also way too young for "activities." She won't get much benefit out of them. She is already meeting kids in daycare - you're fine.

Feel free to memail me ANYTIME.
posted by corb at 8:14 AM on September 8, 2012 [2 favorites]

Having known a lot of them, kids at 1yo vary wildly in terms of self-feeding skills. Moving towards self-feeding is going to help you out in the long run and be more satisfying for her, but there's no "should".

How do you feel about church/temple/mosque/etc? Houses of worship tend to be a very family friendly. You could go with your daughter; it'd be a great place for the two of you to make friends in the same space.

I totally agree with this. I was just talking with a friend about it yesterday, in fact. They also tend to have childcare where you're in the same building but can get a break and talk to some adults.
posted by the young rope-rider at 8:19 AM on September 8, 2012 [2 favorites]

First, I want to say that I empathize with what you are saying and feeling, other than the traveling for work piece. I'm a single Mom with the sleeplessness experience, and it can be hard, lonely, isolating, and incredibly frustrating. Please, please, please, feel free to message me if you want to talk about anything!!! Not long ago, I posted about feeling lonely, isolated, etc being a single Mom.

I would highly suggest looking into Family Education groups. Many community centers/school districts offer low-cost early childhood structured groups. These groups are great for many reasons, including connecting with other parents, being able to consult with an educator about how to handle situations with your toddler, socialization for the both of you, and time with your daughter.

The Mother's Helper idea is a great one, if you can afford it. It sounds like things might ease up a but once you are done with your current therapy schedule. I do want to echo what others have said about how incredibly important it is to do things for truly does make you a better Mom. Seconding not buying in too much to what others are saying about how you are doing things (unless they are going to pitch in a help you out!).

Permission to let some things go: my house is never tidy. I do maintain some semblance of organization to keep a bit of sanity, but I really have had to train myself not to get hung up on whether laundry is folded and put away, whether dishes are done nightly, if the bathroom is clean. Some things just have to go by the wayside. Seconding the bigtime babyproofing...that way you can move around the house and she is less likely to break your vase or get a head wound!

That being said, I have my own mental priority list: is my kid getting love, food, stability, cuddle time, books, baths, positive attention from me? Am I getting love, food, stability, social time, exercise, relaxation, emotional support, breaks from my kid? I try to visualize my week; on the nights when we don't have something going on, I make sure we block out some dedicated play time at home (no TV, put on some music and make art, play with blocks, dolls, etc). No rushing around on those nights, no checking the computer, just connecting.

The bottom line is that your daughter is feeling safe, secure and attached to you. It sounds like she does well being with others, and that is a great sign that she has a very healthy attachment with you. View her time away from you as enriching and wonderful socialization for her and also as having more people in her life that love her.

I hope you can find other mothers around you to connect with. It is hard to do, the days and weeks go by fast. Do what you can to appreciate the time you have with your daughter, and also to get time to yourself to recharge. The sleep issue complicates things too. Once your daughter is sleeping more soundly (it WILL happen!!!), you can have someone babysit while she sleeps and you meet friends, or a date, for a late night drink (once you've caught up on all of those missed hours of sleep : )

You mention that it takes hours upon hours to get out of the house? I'm wondering, if you want to be more specific about that, what is complicating that? Don't get me wrong, I totally get how hard it is to leave the house (when I am late for work, it is usually directly related to refusal to put on a clothing item or to brush teeth). I'm just wondering if we can help you with ideas to ease that routine.

I hope some of this helps. I guess I really want to say: Your feelings are normal for someone in your situation (I'm not saying that because it is normal that you should just put up with those feelings). There are things that can be done to ease your stress. You should absolutely take time to socialize.

Finally, you will date again. You will meet people who are totally open to dating a single Mom. Don't give that a second thought right now...I know those fears so well, and I can tell you that it is a waste of time to dwell on that fear. There are plenty of men our there who are open to dating single Moms.

Again, message me if you want to talk, ok?
posted by retrofitted at 8:21 AM on September 8, 2012 [3 favorites]

How does this compare with your pre-parent expectations?

Frankly, watching from the outside as I do, I am in awe of anyone who can parent anybody. Props to you for pulling it off so far.

What has always scared me off was that MY expectations of what you are seeing were EXACTLY what you are seeing. In the animal kingdom, kids basically eat their parents. I never wanted to be eaten.

So, it's ON thread, but off the exact topic a little.... how did you imagine this working out?

(and fwiw, it sounds like you are busy but balancing really well... just feeling a tad guilty about "me" time. is that a fair assessment?)
posted by FauxScot at 8:23 AM on September 8, 2012

Single mom to two who are heading toward the edge of the nest now. Yes you are being selfish, but selfish is not a bad word. You have to take care of yourself, you have to meet your own needs. So don't worry about that. Trying to suppress those feelings of personal need will only lead to resentment. There is nothing wrong with "mommy needs some quiet time now" or "mommy needs a shower now."

For the day-to-day stuff: be dispassionate and consistent, not reacting to her protests but making sure she has what she needs. Put locks on the toilet and cabinet and have her in the bathroom with you with a few toys/books while you shower. Completely ignore her complaints; it's 10 minutes and she'll soon learn to entertain herself if you're consistent. Sit down and eat dinner with her. Don't force her to eat, and ignore what she throws around. Don't react to her protests, just clean it up later without comment. She will soon learn that it doesn't work. She will eat when she's hungry.

For work/travel: if she has quality care, then don't sweat it. Your kid's "normal" is mom traveling every month or so. Eventually her father might come back into the picture and she will spend nights away, or she'll go on school trips, or whatever. And unlike kids who have never been apart from their families, she'll be fine. Don't sweat getting the rest you need if she's in good hands. Come back refreshed and happy to see her, and you're golden.

For late nights: don't discount the possibility that the therapy you're going through with regard to your phobia is adding to your stress. Therapy can be like rearranging your kitchen cabinets: getting everything out of the cabinets makes a huge chaotic mess, but you have to get it all out before you can deal with it all. Don't quit that therapy now, when you've got everything strewn all over the place. Separate your therapy-stress from your mom-stress and you may find that they're both quite manageable on their own. Breathe. You're doing great, stick with it. Same with school. These are very important nights out, and again, you're leaning on your "village" to help you raise your daughter. She's in good hands.

For dating and friends: The guys-and-single-mothers thing has never been an issue for me. And there are a lot of single dads out there now, more than ever before who have primary custody of their kids. Don't worry about that. But I would also say maybe shelve that idea at least until the therapy is done, maybe until school is done, etc. Because your time isn't the only resource that's limited. Your emotional stores are pretty low right now, your brain is filled with work/school/parenting ... that may be just me though. You know how much energy you have.

I would focus much, much more on developing friendships first, before dating. Friends help ease your emotional burden, you can take turns watching each other's kids, you can do social things where the kids are there but they're not the 100% focus ... I would highly recommend you work on that before dating. Moms' groups, working moms' groups, family-focused meetup groups (in my town there's a group called KIVA "kids in the valley adventuring" and they go on little hikes and zoo trips and bigger hikes with babies in backpacks etc.) it's not all moms & coffee & wine/whine (avoid that if you can).

That kind of thing would cover the "group activities" your mom is pushing. That kind of "mom-concern" might just come with the territory -- she's your mom plus she's helping you out with your kid, so she's got plenty to say, but you can just thank her for her suggestions and decide not to follow them. Your mom cares, but she's not you ... as a single mom you are going to second-guess yourself a lot over the next 2 decades, so always be open to the perspective of others who care about you and your daughter. But in the end they're your decisions, and you'll do fine. Swim lessons or no swim lessons, she's going to be fine. So dont' worry about it. Personally I agree with your instincts, she doesn't need swim lessons on Saturday morning, she needs to get up and cuddle with mom and be lazy and read books and putter around the house and garden and have Saturday be a "do nothing" day. It's ok to be "getting nothing done" while you're at home. That's pretty much the definition of "quality time." Put some music on, dance around the living room, and enjoy each other. That's all you need to do.
posted by headnsouth at 8:27 AM on September 8, 2012 [7 favorites]

Only child of a single mom here, raised in the days before formal play dates and mommy-and-me classes.

I was a happy kid when my mom was happy. She worked and/or was in grad school the whole time I was growing up; she traveled (without me), and even when she didn't, there were times when I'd get offloaded to nearby relatives for a weekend here and there, or one of her friends would take me for a day to go to the beach or whatever.

If your mom is so fired up about signing her up for classes and things, then she can make it her job to take her to those classes, is what I think.

I know it's easier said than done, but don't feel guilty when you leave for for a night or a week. I still loved my mom and knew that she loved me even when she wasn't with me 24/7.
posted by rtha at 8:34 AM on September 8, 2012 [2 favorites]

While there are definitely guys who will run for the hills when they learn you are a single mother, there are plenty of others who will not. No bonus points for guessing which are better prospects in terms of their emotional maturity and capacity to care about others.
posted by thelonius at 8:41 AM on September 8, 2012 [1 favorite]

I agree she is way too young for activities. At this age, do things you want to do with your child. Your baby is one, she does not need activities. I did all of the activities -- lunch with baby, KinderMusic, etc. but it was social hour for moms. Socializing is vital for a cooped up mom, but you're not cooped up. I'm not friends with any of these moms today. I think I felt the pressure to do something with my kid. I wanted to "enrich" him. If I were a more confident parent, I would know that stuff was unnecessary. If there isn't a swimming pool in your backyard, don't worry about swimming lessons right now. You can get to to it when you're less sleep-deprived. When my kids were two?, three maybe?, and older, I brought them to the community college and YMCA and they learned to swim just fine.

It's very common and normal to have parental guilt. I had a ton of it and it wasn't productive. When there is too much guilt, you become helpless instead of in charge. All of that guilt can keep you in the same patterns of helplessness. It's a waste of time to wallow in guilt and you're doing your kid no favors by feeling guilty. Guilt doesn't mean you love your kid more and it doesn't make you a better parent. It makes you a less effective parent. It's hard to let guilt go and get off the guilt cycle unless you heal. This is goo-goo talk but it's true. Keep going to therapy. Practice healing, loving yourself, and being okay and proud of your status of single mom. In the meantime, practice taking action instead of allowing guilt take over. Try to come up with solutions to things that are not working instead of feeling guilty about it.

It's also helpful to view things as less of a struggle. Yes, getting a kid ready, feeding a kid, sleep etc. is not always easy but it doesn't have to be framed as a struggle unless you allow it. Sleep deprivation is no joke but this too shall pass. Let your kid be picky. Relax a bit. Your kid is not going to starve. Allow her to eat what she wants and assist her when she needs your help and keep her company at mealtime. It takes an hour to get her ready? Well it takes a hour. Maybe less if we lower our standards. It's not a struggle. It's okay that it takes some time. I'm not trying to be flip, only trying to encourage you to see daily life as less of a chore.

Being a parent and especially a single parent, takes a lot of inner strength. Find your strength and know you are capable. Be proud of your status as a single parent. Enjoy your baby and live in the moment as much as possible. You and your baby are a family. It's okay that you want to be with her. I want to be with my kids, too. I choose to be with them and I'm happy for it. Never be concerned that some men won't care for you because you are a single mom. That thought should not enter your head. Put yourself and your child first, stay strong, and work actively (with therapy) to let go of the guilt. Discuss the guilt with your therapist if you haven't already.
posted by Fairchild at 8:57 AM on September 8, 2012 [3 favorites]

Single mom of a 22-month-old here. Please relax. You're doing more than fine. I have to agree with several of the points above, namely:

1) You're juggling a lot in order to give your kid the best life you can. This is not a cause for guilt, even though taking time away feels like it must be wrong. It's something to be proud of. Right now I'm in school full-time (graduating in December, yay!), I have an internship and a part-time job, I'm the President of a student organization. My son's dad is in the picture, so he's gone every other weekend and one night a week. I worried that he wouldn't recognize or love me, but nothing could be further from the truth. His daycare is wonderful, and he loves going there. At the end of the day, he's healthy and happy, and that's what's important.

2) Take time for yourself, and don't feel guilty about that, either. You're a better mom when you're relaxed and happy, and your kid picks up on this. Parenting is about quality, not necessarily quantity.

3) If your mom wants your kid to do activities, your mom can pay for them and take her to them and bring her home. Grandma means well, I'm sure, but honestly, a 1 year old doesn't need swimming lessons and can't appreciate them. But I bet they would both appreciate spending some quality time together, and mama feeling more sane because she's had a nap.

And also, you're probably not going to start getting things done while the kid is awake until she's just a little bit older. Hold on, that time is coming. Meanwhile, let it go. The house doesn't have to be perfect and you don't have to feel guilty about it. I'm not ashamed to admit I've used the TV as a babysitter. My son loves Little Einsteins and Dora the Explorer and I really do not think it's doing him any harm. Getting dinner made or the dishes done or laundry folded while he's distracted is a serious blessing and frees up my post-bedtime for homework.

Hang in there and feel free to memail me for any reason.
posted by woodvine at 9:10 AM on September 8, 2012 [1 favorite]

First of all, this thread contains volumes of great information and I can hardly add to it. All of the anxiety about activities and associated guilt is familiar and while things might not look like you expected them too, BY keeping your kids in mind things will generally turn out all right and you will build a good, loving relationship with them over time. Print this thread out and re-read everything.

I am a single Father of 4. Insofar as I have anything to add it is this: don't sweat the dating thing. Single parent dating is not as big a deal as I worried it would be, I would reiterate the self-care theme that people have been mentioning. The stressors might seem to work against you; when you find routines and ways of bringing balance into your life you, first and foremost, will benefit, then your kids. When I tried dating during "chaotic" periods I tended to meet people in similar situations, neither fun nor healthy. So build that foundation for your family (finish the degree), make some friends, and "eventually" (your word) I think you will find that men who have their act together will look at what you are doing and admire it. Things are going to be ok.
posted by cgk at 10:17 AM on September 8, 2012

I agree with those that say the dating can wait a bit, but for a data point, one of my daughters is now a single mother with two children and she has never lacked for male attention if she wants it.
posted by St. Alia of the Bunnies at 10:28 AM on September 8, 2012 [1 favorite]

Parent here, with a partner who travels regularly enough to have a tiny taste of what your every day experience is like. My hat is off to you; solo parenting is very hard work. Nthing everyone else who says that you are doing a great job (the fact that you worry about this is a sign that you're probably doing a better job than you give yourself credit for.)

Activities at age 1 are what you want to do, kids that age can't handle anything structured. In particular, swimming at this age is a "mommy and me" thing where you both play in the pool- proper swim instruction doesn't really take, for the vast majority of kids, until 3 and a half or four. (Yeah I know there is the exceptional toddler who is swimming at 18 months, but that is the exception- most kids can't really process what their instructors are telling them until 3 or so, so tell your mom to back off.

You do need to carve out some time for yourself- even once a month, get a sitter and go out with some friends for dinner, or join a book group or something. Do not feel guilty about giving yourself some "me" time. As they tell you every time on the airplane, "put your own oxygen mask on first!"
posted by ambrosia at 11:00 AM on September 8, 2012 [1 favorite]

I am a single mother to a 2.5 year old whose father is out of the picture also. It is stressful and exhausting. I'm jealous of my friends who are able to make sure their child has some sort of "quality" activity every day (swimming, going to the zoo, yoga class, etc.)

My therapist introduced me to the term "good-enough parenting." (see A Good Enough Parent.) This has helped me to change my outlook. We spend so much time thinking about all the things we could be doing to improve our children's lives (Spanish classes, dance class, swim class, play groups, etc.) We forget that what's important is the fundamentals of parenting. You are there for your daughter and she knows it. You show her and tell her you love her. You are not neglectful. You are providing her with her basic needs (food, health,roof over her head, comfort.) You provide for her physical and emotional needs. It seems so obvious to us that these needs would be met, and that in and of itself makes us good parents. We are not out partying, doing drugs, sleeping around while our child is entrusted to the care of someone else; rather we are working on ourselves, providing for our family, and ensuring that we have our personal needs met.

My therapist also told me that children need to learn to occupy themselves, which is something that is lost in our society today with our need to constantly stimulate our children. It's OK to take an hour for yourself in the evening to work, read the paper, etc, and allow your child to entertain herself in a safe environment (the idea someone had above about a childproof room is what I'm referring to.) In doing so your daughter develops the important skill of occupying herself.

As far as friends and dating - I am learning from the previous comments for myself. I am also lacking in this department. :)
posted by baz0 at 11:05 AM on September 8, 2012 [1 favorite]

Parent (not single parent). A one-year-old who regularly interacts with other kids in a daycare setting does NOT need to be in swimming classes or activities. She gets plenty of socializing with other kids. Your mother is being silly.

Swimming is an important skill but plenty of kids don't start to learn until they are three or four or five. You can wait to take her to swimming lessons until your night classes aren't taking up so much of your time, and it won't be the end of the world -- it won't even be worse than average. If your mother is worried about your daughter's safety in the water and this is really important to her, then let her take your daughter to swimming class. As far as any other activities are concerned, I would just say to your mom that your daughter already does a lot of activities with other kids at daycare, and leave it at that.

As for the dating thing, the single moms I know do find dating difficult, but not because there aren't guys willing to date them -- mostly because of the time constraints, plus their higher standards (because they're mostly looking for guys who are father material, not just casual dating material).

I know how frustrating the eating issues can be -- I mean I really know -- my son was so picky when he was that age that he wound up getting diagnosed with failure to thrive -- but as long as your daughter has plenty of energy and is not underweight, I wouldn't worry too much about her skipping a meal now and then because she just won't eat and you really need to take a shower. If you have concerns because she is underweight, then you might want to see a pediatric nutritionist and/or an occupational therapist to see if they have any suggestions on getting her to eat well (and more quickly). But nearly all one-year-olds go through a phase or three where they are more interested in playing with food than eating it.

Good luck. You're doing a good job.
posted by BlueJae at 12:34 PM on September 8, 2012 [1 favorite]

P.S. In case this reassures you about the food: a toddler only needs about 1,000 calories a day. A cup of whole milk contains about 150 calories, so if she's drinking three cups of milk a day she's almost halfway there before she even eats a thing. If she's eating and drinking a lot at daycare, she might honestly just not be hungry by the time she gets home.
posted by BlueJae at 12:41 PM on September 8, 2012 [1 favorite]

Working parent here, but not a single parent. You are doing a great job! I spend a lot of time stressing about all the things you are worrying about too. But you sound amazing, and your daughter's care sounds loving and wonderful. Don't feel guilty for taking time out for yourself, therapy and school are both very worthwhile long-term investments that will benefit both of you. A loving daycare is just like an extended family, and you wouldn't feel guilty about leaving your daughter with family?

I stressed about swim classes when my kids were small, because it seemed like everyone else was already doing it. But guess what, all the people that were doing it were stay-at-home moms who have time to do that. I never could fit it into our schedule until now - my 5 year old has classes at the YMCA while I am at work in the afternoons. i spend the weekend catching up on all the chores I can't fit in during the week. As for getting out of the house at the weekend, try and prepare everything the night before, then make a list of the things that must be done in the morning, then get up, dress and go. Relax your standards a bit if possible. Are you spending a lot of time preparing food to take with you, for your daughter? At one, she is big enough to start eating foods you eat, and can buy when out and about.

Eating and toddlers is just a giant recipe for parent stress. Eating is where toddlers have power, power to choose what to eat and whether to throw it on the floor and so on. They will ruthlessly use this power to exert control over themselves, and we as parents find it hard to deal with, because we are used to being the ones who make decisions, and eating is such a fraught subject anyway. Try not to worry (I found this impossible, but here I am offering advice I couldn't follow myself - hah!). She's thriving, and she will do fine.

It will get better. You really sound like you need friends, a way to meet other parents with similar age kids, so you can get together for "playdates" and chat with someone else who understands. I found these friends through work, daycare and now school. If you can find some way to meet other working parents with similarly age children, and make friends, I think that will help. Its so nice to just go to a friends house with your child and eat a meal, have a drink and chat without worrying about babysitters. Are there any social or meetup groups for single parents in your area?
posted by Joh at 2:36 PM on September 8, 2012

Try to find groups of other parents with similar aged kids. is usually good, as are the library story times. If you can meet people with kids the same age, not only are you making new friends, but also giving your child social interactions with other kids, and once they start playing together, you get to hang out with your new friends while the kids all entertain themselves.

I would have gone crazy without the people I found through meetup and the library. It has totally changed my life, and the life of my son. It would definitely help you to get out of the house, meet new people, and relax a bit (because one adult watching one kid ends up being more difficult than 10 adults watching 10 kids for some reason).
posted by markblasco at 8:09 PM on September 8, 2012

First thinvs first: sleep training. You need to get her sleeping through the night! Do you have the money to hire a sleep consultant to help you? I think if you get her sleeping better, many other things will fall into place.
posted by yarly at 2:09 AM on September 9, 2012

I am not a single mom but I wanted to let you know that things are way harder at 1 than they will be at 4. Just a heads up that they're hard at 2, too, but in a different way. So I can imagine how exhausted and stressed out you are but do know that it will get better in the long term and at some point this time will be a thing that you went through in the past, and you'll have your degree and a kid you can occasionally ask to put her socks away.

I look back on the first couple of years with little llama and I can't imagine doing it again. I'm amazed I didn't sleep in a pile of laundry on a regular basis, and I had help. I think it's good you get away and get a full eight hours once a month. I think it would be okay for you to worry less. It might help to articulate your priorities -- that your priorities are health, safety, and fun for you and your daughter and maybe it will help you see anything you can do to focus more on those--prepared foods? Paper plates? Juice boxes? Buying bras that can be laundered instead of hand-washed?--corners you can cut in order to focus on the things that count the most.

Your kid is loved and safe and will be fine. You work hard and you care a lot.

Mainly I think it's okay to worry less and you can stop feeling guilty. You'll have friends. You'll date. Give it some time.

My mom is pushing me to sign her up for swim lessons and group activities.

Well, she can have at it if that's what she wants, but it's not something you really have time for and it's not necessary to sign a one year old up for 'activities'. They get enough activity doing things like trying to figure out the deal with buttons or how crayons taste -- they really don't require learning experiences that cost money, but if your mom wants to do it and you're okay with it, she can go ahead and manage that whole thing. Otherwise, I wouldn't sweat it.
posted by A Terrible Llama at 4:33 AM on September 9, 2012 [1 favorite]

We put our daughter in full-time Montessori starting at 13 months and she loves it. She learn academic skills, social skills, and does all kinds of activities (music, dance, gymnastics, etc.).
posted by Dansaman at 3:24 PM on September 9, 2012

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